Friday, January 10, 2020

My Decade in Games: The 2010's - Part 2

Welcome back! If you haven't already read the first part of this article covering 2010-2014, check it out here.

I wanted to go back and look at fifty movies and fifty games that meant something to me over the last ten years. Not necessarily the best or most important works released in these years, but the ones that personally meant the most to me. Each of these lists is divided into two articles and arranged by year. For each game I've included the system which I first played it on.


Bloodborne (PS4, 2015) - I don't think I've replayed any modern game as much as I've replayed Bloodborne. Faster, scarier, and more tightly designed, From Software took the formula they built with the Dark Souls games and created something even greater. Giant weapons swing with ease as players roll and flip their way around deadly bosses in a nightmare world with a subtle story that blends cosmic horror with the subtext of man's insecurities regarding childbirth and physical change. I enjoy the entire Souls series, but Bloodborne is just on a whole other level. I love the art design, the speed of its combat, and the spooky vibes. As always with Souls games, I love helping out other players in need. Bloodborne is not only one of my favorites of the decade but one of my all-time favorite games period.

Life is Strange (PS4, 2015) - Life is Strange is Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix's attempt at the episodic interactive movie genre and it's a big success. The story is a mixture of Stephen King and David Lynch (with some really blatant Twin Peaks references), a cosmically doomed love story featuring a young high schooler with the ability to rewind time, desperately trying to keep her best friend alive while trying to solve a murder mystery. There's no easy way out and the choices players make are often hard ones, with no clear right or wrong path. While there are some bizarre bits of writing (weirdly composed grammar and oddly placed slang that no one would ever use) it's a wonderful experience that gets better with each episode, and its 2017 prequel Before the Storm is similarly excellent. The 2018-2019 sequel Life is Strange 2 goes in a radically different direction with a new cast and a current events-driven story that's also excellent and features an ending that actually feels like a culmination of all of your choices rather than a last minute binary selection.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4, 2015) - A game which I've written thousands of words about already. Featuring the best stealth/action game play in the Metal Gear series, a fantastic soundtrack of both licensed and original music, and a cast of extremely well realized characters (minus whatever they were going for with Ocelot), I absolutely love this game. For more on what I found so compelling, check out my full review/analysis, my critique of the game's online component, and some music videos. Hideo Kojima's final title at Konami is a fitting swan song.

Until Dawn (PS4, 2015) - Until Dawn is a brilliant, satirical take on horror films. There's bits and pieces of Friday the 13th, Halloween, The Thing, The Descent, Saw, and even Jurassic Park in here, as a basic "teenagers in the woods with a slasher" story evolves into a monster movie involving Native American mythology. It's well written and able to win your sympathies for its cast even while going out of its way to introduce most of them as detestable jerks. It doesn't just dumbly reference horror films, but rather twists and plays with their themes while showing clear reverence for them. It's also the sort of game David Cage tried making with Heavy Rain before falling down a hole of bad writing; Until Dawn is loyal to its premise throughout and never disrespects the player's intelligence. With its mixture of story, exploration, psychoanalysis, and hiding from monsters, Until Dawn feels at times like a spiritual sequel to the excellent Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

Doom (PS4, 2016) - I certainly never expected a reboot of 1993's classic shooter Doom to be one of my favorite games of the decade! This game had a long, troubled development cycle, starting its life as Doom 4 in 2008. The new Doom is extremely fast, fluid, and unafraid to be completely silly without being smug about it. It's a rare modern first-person shooter that focuses on its single player campaign, though there is a tacked-on multiplayer mode here too. The monsters offer nice variety and are fun to fight, exploring its levels is smooth and rewarding, the music is over-the-top in just the right way, and the story takes itself just seriously enough. From collecting color-coded keys to shooting down giant demon bosses, Doom feels like a throwback to action games of the early 90's in all the right ways. There's a lot of nostalgia on display, but not at the expense of creating something new. The pace at which you encounter new weapons, enemies, and abilities is perfect.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4, 2016) - No doubt this game has some rough spots: Major story beats are interrupted by fetch quests, characters get more invested in the off-screen death of a minor NPC than a family member, and supporting characters wander into and out of the story at random. We're introduced to a variety of villains early on; few ever show up again, and most of the ones that do are half-baked. In spite of all that, FF15 has managed to become one of my favorite Final Fantasies. While the global story is nonsense, the personal story is great; at its core, it's four friends on one last road trip before growing up, facing loss, finding themselves, and enjoying some tasty meals. It often feels like the story is happening TO you, rather than you being a part of the world's narrative, but that's appropriate to this coming of age story in its own way. Each of the four main dudes surprised me and rose above their archetypes, with everything coming together in a strong, satisfying ending. On top of all that: The combat's semi-automated action is pleasant, driving around the world is relaxing, and sometimes the parts where you waste time wandering away from responsibilities are the most enjoyable.

The Witness (PS4, 2016) - Jonathan Blow's 2008 puzzle-platformer Braid made a splash in the indie gaming scene as one of the first big Xbox Live Arcade titles on the Xbox 360. Its mixture of clever time-rewinding platforming, painted landscapes, and obtuse story made it stand out among indie platformers. 12 years later, Blow followed up his design debut with The Witness, a first-person puzzler focused on exploration and line drawing puzzles. It's a deceptively simple concept that grows more and more complex and rewarding as players translate the game's puzzles into their own sort of language. See my in-depth look here for more on this wonderful title, easily one of the decade's best.

The Evil Within 2 (PS4, 2017) - The sequel to Shinji Mikami's 2014 action/horror/stealth game surprised me. While it's not as surreal and trippy as the first game, Evil Within 2 greatly refines the clunky original, giving us a more focused, far more polished title. These games take place inside of a virtual dream world, and it's understandably less crazy when the lead character is fully aware of it going in. John Johanas takes over as director with Mikami moving into a producer role, but the game is faithful to the original while moving in new directions. While the first game was fairly linear, Evil Within 2 breaks it up with open exploration areas. It's an excellent compromise between open-world gaming and more linear design and features a story focused on a more personal angle than the original game's. It's also heavier on Twin Peaks imagery, so there's that too.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (PS4, 2017) - Some of the decade's best sound design, hands down. Ninja Theory's first release since their divisive Devil May Cry reboot in 2013, Hellblade takes us through a doomed Norse world as our heroine, Senua, seeks to save her beloved's soul from the goddess of death. What makes Hellblade so unique is Senua herself. Suffering from an unknown psychosis, Senua is taunted or encouraged by voices in her head as she struggles to make sense of shifting visual information. The implementation of these voices with the game's stellar sound design makes it a truly unique experience, with swirling whispers surrounding the player, sitting right behind you and getting closer and closer. While this is primarily a puzzle solving game, there is some simple, but weighty, combat which is, again, greatly enhanced by excellent sound design.

Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4, 2017) - Horizon is a great open-world apocalyptic action game (one of many released in 2017, the year's big theme) that's grown on me over time. It's visually beautiful, features fun robot-dinosaur combat, and has a very well-developed world. The story is split between tribal conflicts in the present and uncovering the secrets of the past; the former was largely uninteresting to me, but the latter was great and elevates the game's story as a whole. There are lots of doodads to collect, but this game still manages to avoid the task bloat that drowns so many open-world games. It's also one of the few where fighting enemies is actually fun!.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch, 2017) - I was never a huge fan of the 3D Zelda titles. I don't enjoy the way they tell their stories, I rarely enjoy exploring their worlds, and their combat never did much for me. Breath of the Wild changes all of that! Story is kept in the background, with much of what happened to the world implied rather than monologued. Exploration now feels immediately rewarding, with puzzle and combat-driven Shrines absolutely everywhere. Getting access to almost every one of your abilities early on means they can all be used often, and everywhere, rather than the Zelda standard of finding special items that have little to no use outside of the dungeon in which you find them. Breath of the Wild fixes every complaint I had about 3D Zelda games and then goes the extra mile. The amount of love and craft put into this world is astounding, and being able to climb almost anywhere is liberating after years of open world games where you're so often blocked by constant invisible barriers. This element was also something that made me love 2019's Death Stranding.

Night in the Woods (PS4, 2017) - Night in the Woods follows Mae, a 20 year old who returns to her hometown after dropping out of college. The town's suffering a slow death, with a coal industry that's moved on and shops closing one after another. Bethany Hockenberry and Scott Benson's script is the heart of this game. It has fantastic dialogue and every single character around town has a distinct personality; you never feel like you've wasted time talking to anyone. You have to make choices regarding what to do on certain days so it's impossible to see everything in one play through and I appreciate that. You're not making world-altering decisions, simply choosing how to spend your time as Mae drifts through life. Her story is incredibly human and relatable (more so than I'd like to admit at times) and even when things take some surreal turns, that human core remains.

Persona 5 (PS4, 2017) - A great refinement of turn-based RPG game play, Persona 5 features excellent stage design (even if they get too long by the end), likeable characters, and a talking cat that turns into a magic bus. The art design here is exceptional, turning what could be boring menus into flashy, stylish screens, and it's got one of the most timely stories I've seen in a video game. I wrote an extensive review earlier in 2017 that explores the game more thoroughly. This was first only turn-based RPG I was really able to get invested in in years; it's a genre I've always enjoyed, but find them hard to get into when I'm otherwise spending time making RPGs of my own.

Pyre (PS4, 2017) - Supergiant Games follows up the excellent Transistor with something totally unexpected: Magical basketball. Players control a squad of slam dunkers, each with their own unique movement styles and abilities, as they battle other teams for a chance to leave a purgatory world. There's no Game Over here: If you lose a crucial match, the plot continues in an altered manner, and I feel that it suits the story better if you do lose a few times. There's a thematic focus on why we play games, why we subject ourselves to repetition, and what it means to fight ultimately meaningless battles. These themes were also explored in Nier: Automata this same year, but I felt they were developed in a more interesting way in Pyre. Pyre is both a well-told story and a very fun sports game, something I was completely surprised by.

Resident Evil 7 (PS4, 2017) - Resident Evil keeps reinventing itself: The first three games defined the Survival Horror genre, with a focus on puzzles and item conservation, while Resident Evil 4-6 embraced a bombastic, globe-trotting action movie aesthetic, shifting focus very heavily to combat. The seventh title brings with it a much smaller scale conflict,with players controlling an average guy in a first-person view, a stark change from the action heroes of the last three games. The goal's simple: You're trapped in a house with a murderous family and need to find a way to safety. Much time is spent hiding from enemies and sneaking through areas unseen, but in spite of that, it still feels like a Resident Evil game, especially when it comes to puzzle design. It's scary, sometimes funny, and often gross, and it's one of the most effective games in modern horror.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch, 2017) - Odyssey feels like a hybrid of a Mario and a Kirby game: The action is driven by Cappy, a sentient, sassy hat that Mario uses to possess enemies and use their abilities. There are dozens of enemies and objects to possess, some delightfully weird, each with its own distinct feel. The pacing in this game is perfect, with new objectives and abilities introduced at a consistent rate so it never feels like it's repeating yourself. As with Breath of the Wild, many of Odyssey's objectives are quick and can be cleared in short play sessions. This design philosophy suits the idea of the Switch, with many quicker missions that are perfect for portable play complimenting the larger objectives of each zone. Boss fights are fun, exploring is a joy, and the weirdos you meet along the way are lovable. Also, it turns out dressing Mario up in goofy costumes is a ton of fun.

Yakuza Zero (PS4, 2017) - Yakuza Zero perfectly refines an excellent formula and is the best installment of one of my favorite series. Taking us back to the 1980's before Kazuma Kiryu was a national legend, players explore a gaudier, more neon-drenched Kamurocho where Japan's economic boom has everyone throwing their dollars around. When you're not fighting to clear your name for a crime that was pinned on you, you get to become a real estate tycoon, run a night club, and race RC cars against children while trying to maintain your dignity. There's a clear sense that this is all a facade that can't last. The ludicrous 24 hour party has to end some time, and when it does, it's going to hit hard. The extravagance looks fun, but both of our protagonists are completely trapped by it, stuck under the thumb of powerful figures unwilling to let anyone else have a piece of the pie.

This is the most focused narrative a Yakuza title has ever had; it's still a wonderful, melodramatic macho soap opera, but there aren't any moments where I felt that the plot twisted in a stupid way just for the sake of a twist (Yakuza 4 being the worst example of this.) It's also the funniest, with incredible side stories that are worth pursuing not for their rewards but for their great, goofy writing. This is how you do side content in a game: Drive players to seek it out with quality scenarios that they want to engage with, rather than just wanting to check objectives off on a checklist.

Beat Saber (PSVR, 2018) - I always imagined a virtual reality light saber game would be a ton of fun, but I never imagined the perfect implementation for it would be a rhythm game! You swing your controllers around to slice blocks as they fly at you in a very convincing 3D space; simple concept, perfect execution. Every song here is mapped to the beat so well that dancing along feels completely organic. There's a campaign mode that does a good job introducing the basics and features some fun variations including a mode where you need to move your arms as much as possible, perfectly blending human-octopus dance techniques. Beat Saber was my introduction to VR and I can't think of a better first game than this.

Mario Tennis Aces (Switch, 2018) - I never expected the new Mario Tennis to become my most played competitive game in years. I've enjoyed previous games in the series, but Aces really captured me in a way none of the others have. With varied character abilities, super moves, and a way to slow down time and dive for the ball, Mario Tennis Aces feels like a hybrid sports-fighting game. It's funny, sassy, cute, and has alternate modes for casual party time in addition to its legit online tournament play. There's a decently long single-player campaign mode that helps you learn the game, but my focus here is entirely human competition. 

Minit (PS4, 2018) - Minit completely amazed me when it launched on PS4 and I happily bought it again later on to play portably on the Switch. Minit boils down the formula of Zelda-style games to their basics and adds a grim twist: The player automatically dies every 60 seconds. This design concept keeps the game moving and ensures that nothing can ever become too tedious, with shortcuts and warps opening up the world a little bit more with each attempt. This game's zones are an example of perfectly executed stage design. There are plenty of secrets, but none so obtuse as to be frustrating. On top of the wonderful game design, Minit's writing is funny from start to end. The jokes are 100% my kind of jokes.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4, 2018) - I tried to avoid including multiple games from the same series in these articles, but I'm making an exception for Yakuza. The final chapter in Kiryu Kazuma's story is a phenomenal conclusion to one of my favorite game series. The Song of Life closes everything out in a surprisingly touching way with great cinematography, great writing, and some incredible jokes. It's not as expansive a game as Yakuza Zero, but Yakuza 6 still manages to introduce some great new minigames including a baseball manager sim (I'd be happy to play an entire game of this), cat cafe manager, and a spear-fishing game where you get to punch a giant shark in the nose. After the last three games split their stories between multiple main characters, #6 smartly focuses entirely on Kiryu as the world's best dad, best fighter, and biggest blockhead.

Death Stranding (PS4, 2019) - Hideo Kojima's first game since leaving Konami is an oddball masterpiece. Death Stranding features Kojima's signature blend of serious social commentary (on, among other things, climate change, childbirth, the commodification of human interaction, etc.) with goofy humor (Conan O'Brien appears as a failed comic who gives you an otter-shaped hat and some of the game's tougher missions involve pizza delivery.) There's some Metal Gear style combat and sneaking here, but very little; the main focus is on hiking, delivering packages, and making the world a happier place. Players take deliveryman Sam Porter Bridges on a cross-country odyssey to reunite a post-apocalyptic America by, basically, rebuilding the internet. The innate kindness of the people he meets along the way pairs perfectly with the game's online mechanics, where players can share resources, construction, and Likes with other players they'll never meet face to face. It's much more hopeful and optimistic than I ever expected from this kind of story, and while the story can get crushingly brutal (especially for new parents), there's always an undercurrent of hope that really makes this game something special.

Resident Evil 2 (PS4, 2019) - While Resident Evil 7 took the series in a completely different direction, Capcom's 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2 goes back to the series' roots and refines everything that made the original such a phenomenon back in 1998. Unlike the HD remasters that have became so common in the last decade, Resident Evil 2 is an actual remake, a new take on the original horror masterpiece's story and game play. There's plenty that will be familiar to players who loved the original over 20 years ago, but this is essentially a new, and excellent, game. It's not as radical a reimagining as Shattered Memories, Climax Studios' 2009 remake of Silent Hill, but Resident Evil 2 feels like a blend of the best elements of 90's and modern game design.

Return of the Obra Dinn (Switch, 2019) - A two-tone mystery where players explore a derelict ship whose crew vanished years earlier, Return of the Obra Dinn is a remarkable experience. As an investigator with the ability to see flashes of people's moment of death, players must identify each passenger and figure out if they lived or died; if they died, it's up to you to figure out how, and by whose hand. Players are left to piece the story together on their own as the story unfurls in a fragmented, nonlinear manner. It's an astonishing tale of the sea told exceptionally well, and puzzling out the fate of the crew is deeply satisfying.

Tetris 99 (Switch, 2019) - It's Tetris, but with a 100-player battle royale twist. I haven't had any interest in the current trend of battle royale shooters, but Tetris? That's something I'm into. It's wild that it actually works so well; 100 players compete for first place, dumping garbage on each other strategically as they clear lines. It's such a simple concept but it works incredibly well, and the Nintendo-themed backdrops add some stylish fun. This game is free as part of Nintendo's Switch Online service and is by far the best part of the service.


Thanks for reading! I hope you're able to use this list to find a new favorite. I'm always happy to hear your recommendations too! For both movies and games, I found it surprisingly hard to limit myself to just 50 picks. There's an incredible amount of great stories and experiences out there waiting for you, get out there and discover them!

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